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Build confidence and optimism with your cautious dog

Is your dog sceptical about new environments and things happening around you? They may react strongly to an encounter on the walk, react to noises or hide if you rattle in the kitchen. Here we want to give you tips on how to help your dog cope better with different situations.

Normal reaction to things that happen

We want dogs to react to things in their environment that could be dangerous, but some dogs can have a strong reaction even to things that are not dangerous. Usually these are things that are new to them and some dogs are sceptical about most things in their environment. Of course we want the dog to run away if it is actually in a threatening situation but that doesn't mean that rattling in the kitchen should trigger the same reaction in the dog. It is therefore good that the dog's reactions are linked to what is happening and we can actually teach our dogs that they can react differently depending on the situation.

From pessimist to optimist

A dog that reacts strongly to new things we can call a pessimist. It is sceptical about most things and requires time to overcome its suspicions. Some dogs show their suspicion by barking and perhaps throwing tantrums, others want to run away or hide behind their mates/husbands. Dogs are individuals and are shaped differently but there is no need to stay there and put up with the situation. It is actually possible to influence and shape the dog's brain to go from a pessimist to an optimist.

How to shape an optimist

There are many fun exercises to build your dog's confidence and optimism. Start by using your dog's meals to do a little exercise instead of giving food in a bowl. Then you'll have the opportunity to build on your dog's optimistic qualities every day.

  • A plate of rattle. This exercise will train your dog to think that strange noises are not something dangerous. Get out a plate and put down cutlery and other objects that might move a bit and spin around, then spread your dog's food on the plate. Let your dog sniff out the treats for himself and see how your dog reacts to the sounds.

  • Cardboard chaos. Put a bunch of cardboard boxes on top of each other, open or closed. Scatter treats into the boxes, on top of the boxes and around. Let your dog explore the area on his own and get the treats. If you have a dog that is very cautious, it is important not to make it too difficult at first. You will see the progress and can develop as your dog becomes more optimistic.

  • Surprise party. Place a variety of items on the floor. It could be a raised umbrella, a ladder lying on the floor, objects that move like a balance ball, etc. Place treats out and let your dog explore the area on his own or walk with your dog among the things and place treats along the way.

  • Bowling. Bring out an object and to begin with, the object should be something your dog is not skeptical of. Let your dog explore the object and reward each time your dog interacts with the object. This can include nuzzling it, pawing at it, pushing it with your nose or boxing it with your paw. You can develop this exercise in many stages, using harder and harder objects to bowl down.

This is what an optimist looks like during the exercises

Pessimists tend to roar away if a cardboard box falls or something rattles the plate. They may keep their back legs far back to poke at cartons but not really dare to crawl all the way in. An optimist will crawl far into boxes and find goodies. They don't find any objects particularly interesting and will crawl under an umbrella or over a moving object. That's your goal and keep feeding your dog in different ways to increase their optimistic view of the world!

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